A relentless recruitment campaign to attract people from all disciplines into social care and promote the "really good" career paths available is needed urgently if the UK is to deliver a step-change in child protection.
Last week, the government unveiled a £58m plan to radically transform the profession in the wake of the Baby P scandal. But despite including aims to provide more investment in training and support for front-line social workers, and a scheme hoping to attract 500 former staff back into the sector by the autumn, HR practitioners warned the strategy lacked long-term measures for boosting the numbers of people entering the profession.
Gillian Hibberd, corporate director of people and policy at Buckinghamshire County Council and president of the Public Sector People Managers Association, told Personnel Today that some local authorities were running with social worker vacancy rates of up to 25% in children's services, with the work largely being covered by temporary staff.
A lack of on-the-job training and supervision, and a low focus on continuing professional development, were among the issues contributing towards people either being put off working in the sector, or leaving after a short length of time.
"What we need to do is attract enough people to the profession so they want to work permanently and stay long term and build relationships with clients," Hibberd said. "We don't struggle to recruit unqualified people [for assistant social care posts] - it's the qualification bit. We are missing the vocational, practice-based route into becoming a social worker, where people can learn on the job."
Julie Cudmore, personnel manager at Kent County Council's adult social services department, added career opportunities needed flagging up. "There are really good career pathways for social workers based on post-qualifying training frameworks which aren't necessarily well publicised. If a social worker does want to progress, the pathway is there."
Rosie Varley, chair of the General Social Care Council, added that initial and post-qualifying training needed strengthening, and called on employers to support ongoing training and development for social workers.
The HR practitioners also questioned whether the extra funding - which would contribute to a total of £109m being ploughed into social care over the next two years - would really make a difference, given the scale of the recruitment crisis.
However, children's secretary Ed Balls said: "This package of support lays the foundations for a radical transformation of the social work profession and significantly improves career opportunities."
New social care reform measures